Sure, you’re thinking, sounds like a burger. Wrong. Somehow Soble managed to balance the flavors so expertly that none overpowers the others, no matter how you arrange the condiments. It’s poetry on a bun. Or, as Sean Cannon, a bartender at Soble’s who now works at Star-lite, puts it, “The cow and the pig combine to make beautiful music together.”
Eric Soble worked in his pop’s restaurant for nearly 20 years, and he swears the burger owes its taste to the grill that came with the place, which Soble’s took over in 1987 after a long run down the block at Floyd and Robinson. “We cleaned the thing every night,” he says, “but there was something about that char grill that gave the burger its flavor. It was the best grill in the world.”
Paul’s sister Sarah Soble Coyne credits her brother’s prep work: “They were all done by hand; they weren’t patties,” she says. “He had his own seasonings and stuff that he put in it.” She pauses. “They were awesome, that’s all I can say. They were huge.”
Then there’s the question of the beef. I was pretty sure when I tried it that the meat was less lean than normal restaurant fare, which jibes with my own experiments grilling at home — the fattier the beef, the better the burger. Cannon gets skittish when I bring this up.
“I’m not really sure you should have that information,” he says. “If that’s part of the secret, what’s to say everyone’s not gonna start just frying up every barnyard animal at home?” “Well, lots of other restaurants serve bacon cheeseburgers,” I venture. He disappears for a minute, then returns with an answer that suggests he has a future in public-relations should he give up bartending: “The staff doesn’t seem to know. It’s not information that we’re privy to. We just eat them and push them.”
Soble Coyne doesn’t think the meat is fatty: “I think Paul would have used sirloin. It’s got a great flavor to it.” Eric Soble’s less reticent: “It was just regular ground beef,” he says. “The burger was always an 80-20 as far as lean and fat. We found out early-on that 90-10 was too dry.”
Neither Soble Coyne nor her nephew has tried the Star-lite version of Paul’s masterpiece. But both stress they fully support the new restaurant — Eric’s voice breaks when he talks about how proud it made him when Lyons asked if he could name the burger after his dad. Yet they find it too difficult to be in a place that was so quintessentially Paul’s joint.
“Our big thing was loud rock ’n’ roll, good food and good drink,” Eric says. “From what I understand, they’re still doing a pretty good job of rockin’ it over there.” He pauses. “I hope they’ve still got that same grill, man. I don’t know if it was in the metal or what, but it was something.” — Andrew Beaujon
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